Declining Fisheries


Take Action Against Fisheries Decline

  • Make smart seafood choices. Buy seafood that you know is being harvested sustainably and doesn’t contain heavy metals, such as mercury, that pose a risk to human health. Consult the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s seafood guide to identify best choices that help preserve these fish stocks for future generations. You can also download the app version from the Apple and Google Play stores.
    • Another resource to help you choose sustainable seafood is the National Marine Fisheries Service’s Fish Watch website. For detailed information on the state of the world’s fisheries, check out the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s biennial State of the World Fisheries and Aquaculture report located at the bottom of this webpage:
    • National Geographic has a Seafood Decision Guide that compiles all the information you need to make healthy and environmentally friendly choices. It ranks your favorite fish by sustainability, mercury level, and omega-3 content, as well as its place in the food chain – and why it matters.
  • Ask the Question, “Do you Serve Sustainable Seafood?”: Support sustainable seafood retailers and restaurants and let your favorite businesses know that ocean-friendly seafood’s on your shopping list.
  • Click here for more ways you can take action to help protect the ocean


How are Fisheries Declining?

Simply put, fishery declines happen when too much wildlife is taken from sea too fast for fished species to replace themselves. It is a result of a growing global demand for seafood combined with more effective fishing techniques, such as larger boats and better equipment, and (sometimes) poorly managed fisheries. Additionally, the “open access” nature of fisheries does not incentive fisherman to leave fish in the water. It’s also difficult to manage and regulate fisheries on a global scale when some species migrate across the ocean.

Unintended catch or bycatch occurs when fishing operations discard fish or unintentionally catch marine mammals, seabirds, or sea turtles. Bycatch can have significant biological, economic, and social impacts on fisheries. Excessive bycatch can prevent overfished stocks from rebuilding, and bycatch and gear interactions can prevent the recovery of endangered marine mammals, sea turtles, seabirds, and fish.

Seafood fraud committed along the seafood supply chain is also an issue and happens for a variety of reasons. These range from simple misunderstanding or lack of information to blatantly deceiving consumers to increase profits, or even worse, laundering illegally harvested seafood. Regardless of the reason, seafood fraud is illegal and can have serious consequences for fish, fishermen, fishmongers, and fish-eaters.


Impacts of Fisheries Decline

Economic Loss: Fishing is integral to economies around the world. Declining fisheries threaten coastal communities both large and small and can devastate those whose chief source of labor and revenue hinges on healthy, plentiful stocks of fish.

Marine Ecosystem: Targeted fishing of top predators (such as billfish, sharks and tuna) eventually disrupts marine communities, causing increased abundance of smaller marine animals lower on the food chain. Declining fisheries can reduce populations below desired levels and potentially modify the marine food web. Taking out too many fish can cause changes in species composition and biodiversity, leading to a reduction of large, long-lived, and high value predator species and an increase in small, short-lived, and lower value prey species.

Decreased Food Security: Coastal communities around the world depend on fish as their primary source of protein. Overfishing threatens their long-term food security, particularly in developing countries.

Source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations – Fisheries and Aquaculture Department


Examples of Solutions

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are special places designed to help protect and restore marine life and habitats in the ocean, much like state and national parks protect wildlife and habitats on land. MPAs are among the most useful tools for helping protect the ocean, complementing other conservation efforts by providing a place for marine life to recover and thrive. Some of California’s MPAs are fully protected “no-take” areas while others allow limited fishing. MPAs provide excellent opportunities for a wide range of recreational activities like bird watching, boating, SCUBA diving, and kayaking.

As of December 2012, California has a statewide network of 124 marine protected areas (MPAs) that cover approximately 16% of state waters. This historic achievement used strong science and input from stakeholders from across the state to protect our ocean for future generations. MPAs address some reasons for the decline in marine life populations and the health of ocean ecosystems by regulating where and how specific human activities, such as oil drilling or fishing, can occur, protecting ecosystems and marine life. For more information regarding MPAs, please visit our MPA web page.

Caviar Aquaculture Facility Photo Credit: Miho Umezawa

Caviar Aquaculture Facility
Photo Credit: Miho Umezawa

Done well, aquaculture is an efficient and environmentally sustainable way of meeting our growing demand for seafood (over 90% of US seafood is imported). Aquaculture is the process of raising and harvesting plants or animals in an aquatic environment. Doing aquaculture well takes the cooperation of innovative producers and regulators working to maintain California’s high economic, environmental, and quality standards. It also means protecting public health, ecosystems, and resources for generations ahead. Marine aquaculture has a long history in California beginning with oyster culture in the late 1800s. Get more information at


What is the State of California Doing?

Fisheries in California are managed by three principle entities: the federal government, the Fish and Game Commission (the Commission), and the California State Legislature.

In state waters (from 0 -3 miles offshore), the Commission manages various fisheries through measures that include but are not limited to determining seasons, bag limits, and how fish are caught. In each case, the Commission holds regular public meetings to receive and consider input prior to adoption of new or changed regulations. Once the Commission adopts a regulation, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is responsible for enforcing it. CDFW, as the fishery management agency, implements management plans, provides technical expertise, manages fishery regulations and coordinates the implementation of statewide policy. CDFW is also the agency overseeing ongoing management of the statewide MPA network.

The CDFW Aquaculture Program oversees California’s diverse aquaculture industry. Through policies and regulations, CDFW and the Fish and Game Commission balance the protection of natural resources and the development of sustainable aquaculture. The CDFW is the lead agency for leasing and permitting of marine aquaculture on state and private water bottoms in bays and estuaries, and ensures that marine resources and essential habitat are protected. In California, marine aquaculture for commercial purposes is currently limited to oysters, abalone, clams, and mussels.

In addition to MPAs, the Ocean Protection Council is supporting science-based approaches to inform fisheries management and work with partners to advance improved governance of California fisheries. The OPC will use lessons learned from earlier initiatives to inform new and innovative approaches to fisheries management.


What is the Federal Government Doing?

The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act is the principal law governing marine fisheries in the United States. It has been amended several times, most recently in 2006. Among other things, the Act created regional councils and describes their functions and operating procedures. In California, the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) is the regional council charged with developing fishery management plans and recommending fishing regulations to states and the National Marine Fisheries Service.

With jurisdiction over the 317,690 square mile exclusive economic zone (from 3 to 200 miles off shore) off Washington, Oregon and California, the Council manages fisheries for 119 species of salmon, groundfish, coastal pelagic species (sardines, anchovies, and mackerel), and highly migratory species (tunas, sharks, and swordfish). The Council is also active in international fishery management organizations that manage fish stocks which migrate through the Council’s area of jurisdiction, including the International Pacific Halibut Commission (for Pacific halibut), the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (for albacore tuna and other highly migratory species), and the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (for yellowfin tuna and other high migratory species).

The Office of Sustainable Fisheries (OSF) is a Headquarters program office of NOAA‘s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS or NOAA Fisheries Service). OSF works to manage fish stocks important to commercial, recreational, and subsistence fisheries through guidance and support of Regional Offices and Regional Fishery Management Councils. NOAA Fisheries Service has also made bycatch reduction a key component in its efforts to maintain sustainable U.S. fisheries. NOAA’s FishWatch program works to crack down on seafood fraud through inspections, criminal investigations, traceability systems, and genetic analysis.


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